Benois Alexandre Nikolayevich was a graphic artist, painter, stage designer, publisher, writer, one of the authors of the modern image of a book. A representative of Russian Art Nouveau. A. N. Benois was born in a well-known architect’s family and grew up in an atmosphere of respect for art, yet he didn’t get any artistic education.
He studied at the Faculty of Law of St. Petersburg University (1890-94), but at the same time independently studied history of art and practiced drawing and painting (mainly in watercolor). He did it so thoroughly that he managed to write a chapter on Russian art for the third volume of R. Muther's The History of Painting in the XIXth century, which was published in 1894. He was immediately talked about as a talented art historian who turned over the established ideas about development of Russian art.
In 1897, impressed by his journeys around France, he created the first serious work - series of watercolors "The Last Walk of Louis XIV" - approved himself as an original artist. Numerous trips to Italy and France and copying of art treasures there, studying of Saint-Simon's writings, Western literature of the XVIIth-XIXth centuries, interest in ancient engraving - were the foundation of his artistic education.
In 1893, Benois appeared as a landscape painter, creating watercolors of the environs of St.Petersburg. In 1897-1898 he painted in watercolors and gouache series of landscape paintings of Versailles parks, recreating the spirit and atmosphere of olden time in them. At the turn of XXth century, Benois returned to the landscapes of Peterhof, Oranienbaum, Pavlovsk. He glorified the beauty and greatness of architecture of the XVIIIth century. Nature is of interest to the artist mainly in her connection with history. Possessing a pedagogical gift and erudition, at the end of the XIX century he organized an association "World of Art", became his theorist and inspirer. He worked a lot in book graphics. He often appeared in the press and every week he published his "Artistic Letters" (1908-16) in the newspaper Rech. He worked no less fruitfully as an art historian: he published in two editions (1901, 1902) the book "Russian Painting in the XIXth Century" that was widely known, having substantially revised his early essay for it; he began to edit serial publications "Russian School of Painting" and "History of Painting of All Times and Peoples" (1910-17, the publication was interrupted with the beginning of the revolution) and the newspaper "Art Treasures of Russia"; created a beautiful "Guide to the Hermitage Art Gallery" (1911).
After the revolution of 1917, Benois took part in the work of various organizations, mainly connected with the protection of monuments of art and antiquity, and since 1918 he also started to work in museum business - he began to manage the Hermitage's Art Gallery. He developed and successfully implemented a completely new plan of the museum's general exposition, which contributed to the most expressive demonstration of each work. At the beginning of the XX century Benois illustrated writings of Alexander Pushkin. He acted as a critic and an art historian.
In the 1910's in the sphere of the artist's interests appeared people. Such as his picture "Peter I on a walk in the Summer Garden," where in the multi-figure scene an image of the past life, seen through the eyes of a contemporary, was recreated. In the works of Benois the artist, history clearly dominated. There were two subjects that he was invariably interested in: "Petersburg in XVIII - early XIX century." and "France of Louis XIV." And he pictured it in the first place in his historical compositions - in two "Versailles series" (1897, 1905-06), in widely known paintings "The Parade under Paul I" (1907), "The Exit of Catherine II in the Tsarskoye Selo Palace" (1907), etc., reproducing a long-gone life with deep knowledge and fine sence of style. To the same themes, in essence, were devoted his many natural landscapes, which he usually performed in St. Petersburg and its suburbs, or in Versailles (Benois regularly went to France and lived there for a long time).
In the history of Russian book graphics the artist entered with his book "The Alphabet in the Pictures of Alexander Benois" (1905) and illustrations to "The Queen of Spades" by Alexander Pushkin, performed in two versions (1899, 1910), as well as remarkable illustrations to "The Bronze Horseman ", to three variants of which he devoted almost twenty years of work (1903-22). In those same years he took part in the design of the "Russian Seasons", organized by Sergei Diaghilev in Paris, which included in their program not only opera and ballet productions, but also symphony concerts. Benois designed R. Wagner's opera The Death of the Gods on the stage of the Mariinsky Theater and then performed sketches of the scenery for N.N. Tcherepnin's ballet The Armida Pavilion (1903), the libretto to which he composed himself.
The fascination with the ballet was so strong that, at the initiative of Benois and with his direct participation, a private ballet company was organized, which began in 1909 triumphant performances in Paris - "Russian Seasons". Benois, who joined the troupe as an artistic director, created design for several performances. One of his highest achievements was the scenery for the ballet by I. Stravinsky "Petrushka" (1911). Soon Benoit began cooperation with the Moscow Art Theater, where he successfully designed two plays based on plays by J.B. Moliere (1913) and some time even participated in the management of the theater along with K.S. Stanislavsky and V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko.
Since 1926 he lived in Paris, where he died. The main works of the artist: "The King's Walk" (1906), "Fantasy on the Versailles theme" (1906), "The Italian Comedy" (1906), illustrations for Alexander Pushkin's Bronze Horseman (1903) and others.